In the time of New Year’s resolutions, many resolve to eat a healthier diet—but even those with the best intentions may be thwarted by the vast amount of advice and information available. Where do we start?
I get this query all the time—and my advice for the first step on the journey to healthier eating is this: Make your own salad dressing. It’s easy, inexpensive, and will improve your family’s diet. Plus, for those with little experience in preparing their own food, salad dressing is an excellent first step to becoming an accomplished cook.
Why make your own? Check out this list of typical ingredients in a popular Italian vinaigrette salad dressing:
“Water, soybean oil, distilled vinegar, high fructose corn syrup, salt, egg, Romano cheese (milk, salt, cultures, enzymes), dehydrated garlic, sugar, spices, xanthan gum, dextrose, calcium disodium EDTA added to protect flavor, annatto color, natural flavors.”
The cost of this commercial dressing is 24 cents per fluid ounce. Notice that the first ingredient is water—you are paying for that water!
The second ingredient is soybean oil—the cheapest of commercial oils, heated to high temperatures several times during processing—even up to 240 degrees C (464 degrees F) for deodorizing! This processing causes the oils to break down into toxic compounds called aldehydes, which cause oxidation and tissue inflammation—you definitely don’t want to put processed vegetable oils in your body.
Soybean oil also contains plant-based estrogens called isoflavones, which in animal studies exert an estrogen-like effect that can impact “fertility, sexual development, and behavior.” Your growing children deserve better!
Notice that the fourth ingredient is high fructose corn syrup—notorious for causing weight gain, fatty liver, cancer, diabetes, and high blood pressure. And that’s not the only sweetener in the dressing! The product also contains sugar and dextrose. If you add up all those refined sweeteners, they might equate to being the third or even second ingredient!
Then there are the “spices” and “natural flavors,” which often contain unlabeled MSG. Disodium EDTA is a preservative “considered safe” in small amounts but may cause allergic reactions like hives, swelling, itching, or rash in sensitive people. Xanthan gum is a thickener and emulsifier that “attaches” water to oil so that the product won’t taste or feel watery—in other words, so it’s not so apparent that water is the first ingredient. Some people experience digestive issues from consuming xanthan gum, such as bloating, gas, and diarrhea.
As an alternative to this processed brew, you can make a delicious, natural salad dressing with just three ingredients.
Basic Salad Dressing
1 teaspoon good quality Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Place mustard and vinegar in a bowl and blend with a fork. Slowly add the olive oil while stirring with a fork. The dressing will thicken as you stir—no need for added emulsifiers.
This basic dressing takes about one minute to make. Feel free to spice it up with some herbs, garlic, honey, or a little tomato paste—but it is delicious as is. Another option is to toss your “basic salad dressing” in a blender with blue cheese and cream, and voila! You’ve made blue cheese dressing. Blend the basic dressing with egg yolk, garlic, parmesan cheese, and one anchovy and you’ve mastered a divine Caesar salad dressing.
More good news—homemade, nutritional salad dressing packed with goodness is not expensive. With a moderately priced extra virgin olive oil, such as the Whole Foods 365 brand, the basic dressing will cost about the same as the toxin-laden commercial oil—24 cents per fluid ounce.
Here’s a simple salad dressing based on lemon juice.
Basic Lemon Dressing
Makes 1 cup
3/8 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons honey, or to taste
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon sea salt
Dash cayenne pepper
Freshly ground black pepper
Place all ingredients in a pint-sized jar, cover tightly with a lid, and shake vigorously.
Now you can step into your new year’s resolution with ease: Make your own salad dressing and be healthier as a result. With your newly acquired skills, you’ll soon want to try other simple recipes for your good health. Stay tuned for future columns.